“Why do you want to talk to me?”
I hear this question at least once a week. As a part of a first session, massage therapists conduct an intake to hear about your history, goals, and what brings you in. While most massage therapists speak to their clients for five to ten minutes, I speak with clients for up to thirty minutes. We don’t charge for this time, nor does it “come off” your table time.
Yea. Thirty minutes: mostly of you speaking, describing your body and how your use your body regularly.
Thirty minutes is a long time, especially in our busy lives.
This is a vital aspect to Freed Bodyworks, and working with Frances, a piece that I initially struggled with. But as I’ve spent more time at Freed, I’ve realized how meaningful this time is to the practice. The thirty minute intake significantly changes the way massages work.
So why do we do it?
The first thing first: Safety.
Massage works for some folks, but not for everyone. For instance, do you have the flu? Or maybe, are you in your third trimester? It’s really important for me to know any possible contraindications– for you, for me, and for the client I have after you.
No massage is the same (or should be the same), just as no body is truly the same. In order to plan an effective session, I need to know where your pain is, and think about where it could be coming from. Where exactly does it hurt in your shoulders? Is it along the top of your shoulders, or closer to your spine? When you move your neck, where do you feel tension and pain? What activities do you do that make it feel more pain? What stretches are difficult?
While some clients just say, “Just feel around in there!” … I think that does them a profound disservice. You are the expert on your body. You know what it’s like to be you, to walk a mile on your feet, to swim with your shoulders, to bike, to sit, to pick up your two year old, to try a deep lunge. I’ll never know exactly what you feel. While I can feel where your tissue is tight, and where there are “knots,” I need your guidance to create the massage that supports you the most.
For each massage, particularly for deep tissue work, I make a plan. I construct an order of places to work, and I decide where I’ll focus my time, which techniques to use, and what speed of work would be most appropriate. While this plan might change on the table, the plan is primarily created by the words you say, and the directions, history, goals, and ideas you share. In an ideal world, the plan is as much your creation as mine.
Furthermore, I like to explain my plan, so it’s not confusing or surprising when you’re on the table.
Third: Establishing a Rapport
Much of the work I do can be close to a person’s pain threshold, especially if we’re working on tender areas. In order for a session to be productive and safe, it’s vital that communication is easy and encouraged throughout the session. If pressure isn’t in the right place, or is too much, I want to know as soon as possible so I can stop and find another way to approach the tissue.
The way Frances speaks of it, and the way I echo, is to think about the difference between pains as “sweet” and “sour.” “Sweet” is how it feels to rub your back against a doorframe, and push into that weird spot in your back. “Sour” is when something hurts sharply, or feels harmful, or is a “bad” pain.
We want it to stay sweet.
Forth: Injuries linger.
Some problems are acute, and pass fairly quickly. Two weeks ago, I rolled my ankle, but I’m pretty fine at walking by now.
But some last a long, long time. Scar tissue lasts. Tenderness lasts. Guarding and compensation patterns last. Something that happened two years ago might still be impacting you every single day, as those patterns still influence how you walk and move.
Moreover, speaking about these injuries, and about your experience of being in your body, can be transformative. By speaking about your body, you can build better awareness and avoid future injury.
Five: I intend to work with you again.
While this may not pan out, for a number of reasons, I see our first session as, well, the first session. In the course of the session, and our discussion, I make a plan for later sessions, and try to find other ways to support you.
At the end of the session, we make time to talk about what happened, what I found, and what you felt, and where we’d like to go from here. Was there a moment where I “found the spot”? Or a place where you felt your whole body tingle and sink into the table? What parts of your body feel longer, or differently arranged?
I want the work we do in the first session to support and guide the work in our fifth session, to get you to a place with more comfort and less pain.
Six: Massage incorporates more than just the body.
Whether you’re into energy work, or if have a fairly agnostic approach to things that are “woo,” there’s still a lot more that goes on in massage than a simple “I touch your muscles; it feels nice!”
Touch is a loaded thing, both culturally and physiological. Being touched by a stranger, in a comforting, therapeutic way, is very rare in our society. To be open to that touch, and to trust the source, is something that’s very important to me to build. For us to know one another is meaningful for the work, and allows the massage to be more effective. It allows us to build a therapeutic relationship with more communication earlier on in the game.
Moreover, the lines between the physical and the intellectual are much more connected than we traditionally give credit for. Mental illnesses manifest in the body, and chronic pain can cause a lot of distressed thinking. Very few parts of your body are truly isolated, and the more information that I have to work with, the better therapist I can be for you. I want to hear what your life is like and how you feel in your body. And I want to hear the way you speak about your body, and how you see yourself.
I want to give you my best, most informed work. It matters to me.
And I really like listening.